(Artwork: “The Fire of Troy” by Claes Jansz van der Willingen, Finnish National Gallery)
Advent, Advent, not a candle, the whole world is burning.
Swedish worship services of the First Advent are festive, huge, pompous. The counterpart to what I knew as the the German Christmas Eve service, so to speak: everyone who’s still at least a little interested in church will go there. (Swedish Christmas Eve services here are puny or even non-existent.) On the first Advent, I heard again and again, you go to church to get the Christmas mood. Tradition, candlelight, the old songs. The big theme of the text readings and sermons on the First Advent is also clear throughout Sweden: Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Hosanna! That’s how you grew up, that’s how beautiful it is.
Yesterday I was in a service at the Svenska Kyrka the Swedish national church. A good friend of mine was involved as a musician there and I wanted to honor him. It was a beautiful service. It was even very beautiful. Only the Christmas mood didn’t want to materialize. It’s been cold for weeks, everything is covered in white snow. Good conditions. I had a few hours free in the afternoon. I lit candles and enjoyed eating the first Christmas cookies. But a Christmas mood? Nope.
What the hell. At the moment I’m in a phase of life in which a lot is being questioned. A lot of things that I always saw as normal, progressive, civilized are now turning out to be – well, let’s just say: not as smart and civilized as I always thought. Our Western lifestyle is of course not fundamentally wrong, but it is clearly also arrogant and greedy. Over the last few years, I’ve noticed more and more how much I myself have contributed to this arrogance and greed. Pretty substancial, actually. This process of purification is not that easy, which is probably why many of my peers prefer to keep self-reflection far away. Yes, it just hurts your soul, no amount of marzipan can sweeten that. My Advent anticipation is therefore more rational than emotional.
Or maybe not? After all, I still have feelings, but they’re not of the Advent kind. They’re more like longing. Right now, I sincerely long for humanity to do a little better at fulfilling its primary purpose: to reflect the wisdom, goodness, love and creativity of its big role model, the Creator. We seem to have never been further from it than we are now, because the greed we have invited into our hearts like a Trojan horse is now burning our home to the ground. Instead of putting out the fire and doing damage control, we prefer to complain about ridiculous or violent sideshows. And often quite arrogantly too. So frustration mixes with my longing. Because if it continues like this, things will look bleak and pitch black. That won’t light a candle. Where is help? Man’s stupidity is despairing.
Perhaps, against my will, I am closer to every Advent spirit than I have ever been before. Because the desperate wait for rescue is not in a burning candle, but in a burning longing, so hot that it burns you inside. When Israel was desperately waiting for the Messiah under Roman occupation, didn’t Israel have to have similar thoughts as I do today when I look at many contemporary politicians: “Lord, please throw more brains out of heaven!” ?!
Maybe the Swedish Advent tradition of focusing on Jesus entering Jerusalem isn’t so wrong after all. Because “Hosanna!” is not a cheer as I was taught for a long time. Hosanna is the Hebrew SOS – Safe Our Souls, a desperate emergency call, a flare gun, the Morse code of the buried. No dancing or cheering. But: “Lord, help!” Otherwise we’ll die! Greed and arrogance take the last of our oxygen! We, who long for justice, mercy, goodness and peace, are blowing the whistle! Lord, help! Or, as it is said several times in the Psalms: “Lord, hurry to help us!” Because unless a prodigal son or daughter comes home, the Lord always seems to move at a snail’s pace. At best riding on donkeys.
Therefore, it is time for his second coming. Then he will be sitting on a horse, that’s definitely faster. I’m waiting for that. But impatiently. Hosanna, OMG!